There ought to be a law against airline flights departing before 6:00 a.m. Or maybe even 7:00 a.m. My departure this morning at 5:20 a.m. hurt pretty bad, especially after an hour+ drive to Manchester and not sleeping at all. I mean, what’s the point in going to bed when you have to get up at 2:something a.m. anyway???
But I digress. And I’m about to digress some more. I’ve discovered that there’s a particular gate agent in Manchester who I’m not too fond of. I’ve had a handful of ‘run ins’ with her now. I don’t know what her problem is. Either she’s incompetent or just lacks even a shred of self confidence. Or maybe she’s really just a royal pain (the kind that normally works for government but somehow managed to get a private sector job). Anyway, I rode Comair from Manchester to Cincinnati this morning, so I thought I’d ask her if she knew the Captain’s name, on the off chance I knew who it was (I used to be a Captain there). She replied “well, I’m not sure, but I don’t know if I could tell you that anyway.” Maybe she’s just never ridden on an airplane before and heard the little announcement when they (drumroll please) tell the cockpit crew names.
But enough about her. I decided to take matters into my own hands and go see who was in the ‘pit. After I arrived and made the appropriate introductions I noticed the nose number of the airplane: 7105. That was the first RJ I ever flew. In fact, the first jet of any kind. I remember that evening, leaving Louisville and flying over to Lexington to do several landings in the plane. I recall starting the engines for the first time thinking “wow, this is for real”.
Before nodding off on my way to Cincinnati, I recalled some other aviation ‘first times’. My first solo. N89034, a C-152. My flight instructor sent me around the patch for three landings in Sanford, FL. It was like driving a car alone for the first time: simultaneously lonely, adventurous, and a little nerve wracking, in a fun sort of way.
I remember the first time I flew an airliner. I deadheaded to Evansville, IN in the cockpit of the mighty EMB-120 Brasilia. That was actually my first airline cockpit deadhead. It was an eye opening experience for reasons I probably shouldn’t post here 😉 That night, I got to fly the real thing. It was, by a factor of about 6, the biggest thing I had ever flown. That was probably the hardest airplane to learn that I’ve flown so far.
The RJ was the easiest. It’s modern, very intuitive, pilot friendly, and mostly idiot proof. The one biggie gotcha is getting it too slow. The approach speeds are padded quite a bit because of an accident before certification. And the first ever fatal accident (fairly recently) was just about a repeat of that scenario. But as long as you kept the airspeed reasonable, it was a ton of fun to fly and pretty tought to mess up. That first night I flew it, we did a few abnormal things (nothing like in the sim, but still helpful demos for the real airplane). It still behaved very well.
And then, there was the MD-11. That was the first airliner I *didn’t* get a familiarization ride in. My first leg in the plane was a live flight – fortunately freight. It went well though. The check talked me through the landing, and I’m happy to report our touchdown in Brussels was fairly average (I’ve had much worse… and much better since then).
In fact, thinking about that flight makes me wonder… after enough firsts, do things just become old hat? I probably should have been nervous, excited, curious, and a lot of other first time ‘things’. But I wound up sleeping almost the entire Atlantic crossing away. Even during the approach and landing, in the biggest airplane I had ever flown by a factor of more than 12, I was fairly calm, relaxed, and content.
And after all that remembering, I was calm enough to fall asleep for pretty much the entire flight to Cincinnati. It wasn’t like the first time, but it was still a nice ride…